What I’ve Learned: Grey Divorce

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“We all know that the baby boomers have affected America in profound ways.  Now that the oldest of them are in their 70s, they are changing ideas about divorce, again.  “Getting old is not for sissies,” said Bette Davis, and it challenges married couples, even couples who have been married for decades.  I have seen a tremendous increase in what I call, “Grey Divorce,”- the divorce of couples older than 65.

Grey Divorce is different.  Couples think about divorce for very different reasons at 70 than they do at 35.  Sometimes their partner is just too ill to take care of financially or emotionally.  Other times, one partner’s cognitive functioning has declined, making them have difficulty controlling anger, or increasing anxiety and compulsive behaviors, or simply making them function poorly.  This can lead to unpleasant, unlivable and even physically dangerous home environments. And finally, sometimes divorce is contemplated by the spouse or his or her children as an estate planning tool, especially where there are adult children involved who are not the children of both spouses.

Divorce is always a hard financial hit, but for seniors it can be devastating. And there is no time to recover from it.

I have learned that for seniors, it is very important to explore all options before divorcing. In fact, divorce should really be a last option, which is a true mark of finding the best divorce attorney Denver offers.  Some of those options would be:

Simply living apart.  Some people have not considered this option or thought that it could be done.

Entering into a postnuptial agreement.  By entering into a contract setting forth each spouse’s financial rights and obligations during marriage and after death, spouses can protect themselves from spendthrift spouses, ensure their wishes for leaving things to their children are carried out, and work around certain control of money issues.

Legally separating instead of divorcing.  This can allow spouses to be financially separated in some ways, but preserve the marriage in other ways, including for estate planning.

Another thing I have learned is that, as often as not, adult children are instigators of senior divorces.  Sometimes they are just worried about emotionally or physically abusive situations, and sometimes they are concerned about their inheritances.  Seniors who are emotionally vulnerable can be driven down the road to divorce by kids without understanding the long term consequences.

I have been handling a lot of seniors contemplating divorce lately, and three of them always come to my mind when a senior comes into my office to inquire about divorce.  The three started out similarly: adult children of one spouse (but not the other) come into my office with the spouse and talk about pursuing a divorce because the marriage has become toxic.  In one situation, my client fought in an acrimonious and very expensive divorce for a year. The financial results of the divorce were fine, but he died about eight months later. That seems to me a horrible way to spend your last months of life.   Another client started the divorce process, but also revised a lot of his estate planning in anticipation of divorce. He died before the divorce even started, but because of his death bed estate planning, his heirs and his wife’s heirs are now essentially doing their divorce in probate court.  Finally, one couple entered into a marital agreement, the husband picked one assisted living facility and his wife picked another. They worked out a financial plan and put it in writing. While not everyone is perfectly happy with the result, they at least have a plan, and everyone knows what to expect.  This couple can enjoy their last years or months or days doing something other than going through the stress and financial drain of a divorce. While I know that not every couple can work things out, I also have learned that for seniors, it is imperative for them and their families to try as hard as possible to work it out, as the alternative can be profoundly bad for everyone” (Willoughby).


Mindful divorce is another option for seniors to consider if pursuing a divorce is the only option. Engaging in mediation can often make the divorce process more productive and amicable. As your partners in Denver mediation, the attorneys at Willoughby & Associates are available to offer legal guidance and advice every step of the way.


Willoughby, K. R. Esq., Genesee Living Magazine.


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